Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Parshat Ki Tisa

Jonathan refers to an interesting possible "Al Tikra" in Shemot 32:5, in parashat Ki Tisa, so I thought I'd have a crack at it. The pasuk describes Aharon's decision to go along with the populace and contruct for them an altar to worship the golden calf:

וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו; וַיִּקְרָא אַהֲרֹן וַיֹּאמַר, חַג לַה מָחָר
"And when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it; and Aaron made proclamation, and said: 'To-morrow shall be a feast to the LORD.'"

Now, the midrash Shemot Rabba (parsha 51:7) discusses this pasuk. It states:
The Rabanan said: The Satan found his hand{grip} at that time, {that he showed an apparition} that Moshe appeared suspended between heaven and earth, and they saw him suspended in the middle, and they said "Ki Ze Moshe HaIsh."

Slight interjection here: This is from the first pasuk in the perek, Shemot 32:1:

וַיַּרְא הָעָם, כִּי-בֹשֵׁשׁ מֹשֶׁה לָרֶדֶת מִן-הָהָר; וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל-אַהֲרֹן, וַיֹּאמְרוּ אֵלָיו קוּם עֲשֵׂה-לָנוּ אֱלֹהִים אֲשֶׁר יֵלְכוּ לְפָנֵינוּ--כִּי-זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלָנוּ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרַיִם, לֹא יָדַעְנוּ מֶה-הָיָה לוֹ.
"And when the people saw that Moses delayed to come down from the mount, the people gathered themselves together unto Aaron, and said unto him: 'Up, make us a god who shall go before us; for as for this Moses, the man that brought us up out of the land of Egypt, we know not what is become of him.'"

The drasha is on "כִּי-זֶה מֹשֶׁה הָאִישׁ" or more specifically on the word Zeh, for whenever Ze appears, Chazal can take it as pointing out something that is before them. (Thus for example people developed the custom to point at the Torah while saying VeZot HaTorah.) Thus Moshe was before them and this somehow compelled them to made the golden calf. Back to the midrash.

At that time, Chur stood up to them and said to them, Cut-Necks {that is, people running around in a frenzy as if your heads were lopped off}, do you not recall what miracles God did for you? Immediately they arose upon him and killed him. They entered unto Aharon as it states "וַיִּקָּהֵל הָעָם עַל-אַהֲרֹן," they gathered unto Aharon (earlier in pasuk 1). And they told him, just as we have done to this one, so we shall do to you {if you do not comply. Now I will switch briefly to Hebrew and then translate.}

כיון שראה אהרון כך נתירא שנאמר וַיַּרְא אַהֲרֹן, וַיִּבֶן מִזְבֵּחַ לְפָנָיו - מהו מִזְבֵּחַ? מן הזבוח שלפניו

Once Aharon saw this he feared, as it states "And when Aaron saw this, he built an altar before it;" What is meant by {mizbeach} "altar?" From {min} the one who was slaughtered {zavuach} who was before him.

Now, an analysis. In this last verse, there are several reinterpretations going on. First is the dual rendition of וַיַּרְא as "saw" and "feared." The Midrash writes once he "saw" he "feared." This choice of language is most probably deliberate. Second, no explicit here, but put in *parentheses* in Rashi, which means Rashi probably did not write it but rather some commentator (Rashi btw is citing Vayikra Rabba according to my chumash.) is וַיִּבֶן from the word Binah - to understand. This is nice but not necessary. Next, מִזְבֵּחַ. This refers to Chur who was just executed. Finally, לְפָנָיו in the plain meaning of the verse means "before the golden calf." Now it is being reinterpreted to mean "before Aharon."

Jonathan refers to Richard Friedman, who says that the verse was probably vowelized incorrectly, and the word should be Vayira, "and he feared." I did not read Friedman inside, but I can try to guess at his intent. Friedman was probably referring to this midrash, and this thus explains the fear - Aharon feared execution. Nor should we say the text is vowelized incorrectly. I referred earlier to the concept of "Al Tikra." This is an exegetical technique in which words are deliberately revowelized. A famous one in midrash rabba for this parsha is explicit - the verse states that the words of the 10 commandments were "Charus," "engraved," upon the two tablets. Chazal pull an "Al Tikra" - don't real, and say Al Tikra Charus Ela Cheirus, "read not Charus (engraved) but Cheirus (freedom)." They do not mean that when one reads the Torah in shul one should read Cherus rather than Charus. Rather, the text in the Torah lacks nikud. In fact our orthographic signs for nikud probably were developed post-Talmudicly. Until that point the vowelization was passed down as oral tradition. As an exegetical device, one could revowelize the consonantal text and get a new meaning.

Our midrash here retains the original vowelization, of seeing, and adds another vowelization, of fear. Could the vowelization have been incorrect? Unlikely, unless the consonants are also wrong. You see, the word "He saw" is written וירא, with a single yud, while "He feared" is written ויירא, with two yuds. So they differ even in their consonants. For an example of "He feared," see for example Bereishit 32:8:

וַיִּירָא יַעֲקֹב מְאֹד, וַיֵּצֶר לוֹ; וַיַּחַץ אֶת-הָעָם אֲשֶׁר-אִתּוֹ, וְאֶת-הַצֹּאן וְאֶת-הַבָּקָר וְהַגְּמַלִּים--לִשְׁנֵי מַחֲנוֹת.
"Then Jacob was greatly afraid and was distressed. And he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and the herds, and the camels, into two camps."

The reason for this difference is that the root "saw" in Hebrew is ראה while the root fear is ירא. The first yud in both words denotes third person masculine singular in the imperfect form. Then, the root follows. This yud would not be dropped in, for it is a root letter, unless it were written quite irregularly. It is fine for an "Al Tikra" derivation though; maintaining the consonants and writing acceptable vowels would put a chirik chaser (short iy sound) under the yud. More correct would be a chirik maleh (full iy sound), which is also quite acceptable as Al Tikras go.

This reminds me of another, similar midrash I saw many years ago in a book "Yalkut Midreshei Teiman" (Anthology of Yemenite Midrashim). The first pasuk in parshat Balak, in Bemidbar 22:2, we read:
וַיַּרְא בָּלָק, בֶּן-צִפּוֹר, אֵת כָּל-אֲשֶׁר-עָשָׂה יִשְׂרָאֵל, לָאֱמֹרִי.
"And Balak the son of Zippor saw all that Israel had done to the Amorites."

Here too וַיַּרְא is interpreted as "fear." Balak feared as a result of what Israel had done to the Emorites.
The source of the midrash does not appear (at least at first glance) to be an Al Tikra. Rather, they note that the Alef of וַיַּרְא does not have a mapik, so here it means "feared" as opposed to "saw."

Now, I have asked around and no one ever saw this Yemenite mapik aleph. We certainly have no such creature in our tradition - only a mapik heh. But I think I can explain what this means. A mapik in the letter ה at the end of a word denotes that it is pronounced. Otherwise it is assumed to be an אם קריאה, a letter that helps along pronunciation be denoting a vowel sound. The Imot HaKriah are Aleph, Vav, Heh, and Yud. (Such would be especially useful in the absence of an orthography for vowelization.) So even though ה usually is pronounced h, at the end of a word without a dot it is not pronounced at all.

In terms of aleph, we are used to not pronouncing it at all anywhere, but it really is pronounced as a glottal stop. Sometimes it is pronounced - it the beginning of a word, or where there is a vowel under it, or where there is a shva nach (unpronounced resting shwa) under it in the middle of a word. Other times it is not pronounced.

(Digression: In Birchat HaMazon, in the last paragraph, by the way, is the word Yiru. Most people pronounce it Yir-`u. But, the aleph there is not pronounced. We know this because there is a shva under the yud, which makes the beginning of the next syllable the resh. So then we have Resh Aleph Shuruk. There is no vowel for the aleph, and it really completely elides, so it is "Ru." The pronunciation is therefore Ye-Ru. So this is a nice example of unpronounced Aleph. Undigress.)

In the word וַיַּרְא, there is no vowel that the Aleph at the end should serve as an Em Kriah for. So, it is either historical baggage showing the root but completely unpronounced, or else it is meant to be pronounced. We see other words with such Consonant Clusters at the end. Consider ירד, Yard, with a shva nach (resting shva) under the resh. This would then be VaYar`, with the ` being the glottal stop. How can we distinguish this pronounced Aleph from the Aleph functioning as an em HaKriah? With a mapik, just as we do a heh. Apparently this midrash worked with texts that marked each of these final pronounced alephs with a mapik.

In contrast, if the word were VaYiyra`, וַיִּירָא, the Aleph at the end would probably not be pronounced. While a etymological carry-over, the kametz vowel under the resh needs to be denoted in some way when you do not have vowel marks, so the Aleph would serve as an Em HaKriya.

(You can probably prove that this Aleph was not pronounced. If it were, it would be a closed syllable, which would then perhaps demand a patach rather than a kametz - like Vayigash has a patach rather than kametz. Further, if it is an open syllable it would often (depending on the cantillation) impact the plosiveness/fricativeness of bgdkpt in the next word. We can search to determine if it does so.)

Thus they say the lack of the mapik denotes that it means fear. Whether this was accompanied with the Al Tikra now supported by the Aleph being an Em HaKria, or just by the irregularity of it, we can only guess.

1 comment:

Josh Fan said...

The mapik Aleph might explain why we read the second word in the Parsha as Balak as opposed to Valak
as the rule is that you dont have a dagesh after an "aleph" but maybe you do after a mapik aleph


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